Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Death Of A Company Man, Dept.

Jack Valenti - Obituary - New York Times

Jack Valenti was one of those men happiest serving a strong man or a strong organization, who delight in making the entity stronger for their service but who assert their ego even while in the king's or castle's shadow. He is best known for his role as LBJ's adviser and vocal, not to say "adulatory", public supporter (and private, as well: he married a Johnson secretary and named one daughter "Courtenay Lynda" and one son "John Lyndon"), as well as for his thirty-eight-year leadership of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

In this latter role, Valenti was ever on the ramparts but blind to the big picture. He never "got it", "it" being any new vision of art and commerce that served both to the detriment of neither. He was as reactionary a champion as the film industry could ever have wanted; teeth bared at any technological innovation that threatened the studios'--and, by extension, the MPAA's and, by extension, his own--power. He was opposed to fair and reasonable private use of purchased media and content, famously testifying before Congress, "I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone." He was, of course, rabidly against P2P filesharing and for Digital Rights Management, advocating the controversial and counterproductive Digital Millenium Copyright Act to combat one and buttress the other.

Even the film ratings system which will likely remain his legacy for years to come is tinged, if not "tainted", with the old-media, old-world, old-boy mindset that Valenti owned and operated. A step forward from the restrictive Hays Office censorship that stifled American filmmaking from the '30s through the '50s but never more than a fluid rationalization system familiar to anyone who has ever tried to argue a mortal sin down to "venial". A sop to satisfy local and federal bluenoses that Decency would be Upheld, a slap at filmmakers who would have to trim skin here, words there, to qualify for a rating that would allow audience access.

Doubtless, many flowery encomia will have been directed at Mr. Valenti by the politicos and studio bosses he alternately courted and bullied. But he was a man with a shopkeeper's mentality who considered each passerby a potential urchin ready to filch an apple from his barrel. And he was a man who saw the problems, not the potential, of new media and new technology. He retired from the MPAA in 2004 but his sun had set long before.


LolaJones said...

An old boy from the 'club' so to speak shows that spin and close-mindedness exist everywhere. Interesting behind the scenes look at Mr Valenti - did he hold such power that he wasn't challenged to retire sooner that 2004? Blue Ray discs would have sent him for a tizzy!

the sobsister said...

that's an interesting point.

that Valenti didn't use his clout to prevent the ruinous Betamax/VHS format wars of the '80s and instead focused on the "damage" he utterly wrongly foresaw to the industry from the VCR tells me that he would still be flogging Digital Rights Management and uncopyable DVDs rather than brokering a peace to the current HD-DVD/Blu-Ray dispute.

as to why he didn't leave sooner, I'd guess he didn't want to and no-one saw a better alternative to fill his position. I mean, look at the shmo they got to replace Valenti. former Sec'y of Agriculture, former congressman, zero pizzazz, zero Hollywood cred.